University of Mount Olive Assistant Dean of Health Sciences and Associate Professor of Psychology by Dr. C. Ray Taylor shares insights on maintaining a healthy mental perspective during COVID-19.
We have all been introduced to a new set of vocabulary that will not likely leave us too soon — shelter in place, flatten the curve, social distancing, droplet transmission, drive-thru testing, and PPE just to name a few. Life transitioned abruptly from doing the normal, ordinary routines to an extraordinary way of living. Our expectations of how things are supposed to be are no longer the norm – grocery store shopping has become weird, parents have taken on additional role as teacher with lesson plans from professional teachers, faith-based communities are connecting with parishioners through worship and life group opportunities on social media, washing hands for 20 seconds while singing “happy birthday”, medical and public service personnel rush into more risky work settings to save lives.
Like most institutions, the University of Mount Olive transitioned all of its classes to online. Although physically separated, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought the University community closer through actively listening to each other, attending to each other’s well-being, and providing assurance that we all will get through this period together.
Students are learning valuable lessons outside the classroom: be more thankful for parents who have homes and jobs, be more appreciative of everything, have more patience, show more kindness, stop taking things in life for granted, spend more time with family, develop stronger friendships, take better care of health, and practice empathy for others. One student said, “These past weeks have taught me that if we are able to put aside factors such as where you come from, what gender you are, your race, religious beliefs, and socioeconomic status; then we are able to come together as one in the face of adversity and work together as a whole in order to better humanity.”
We have also become aware of the importance of good mental health for ourselves and others. Some of the common challenges of coping are loss of daily contact with friends, social isolation, loneliness, uncertainty, parents furloughed or loss of a job, fear of themselves or their family members catching COVID-19, loss of monies to pay bills, worsening of prior levels of anxiety or depression, adapting to new format of online classes, and navigating technology.
According to the CDC, common signs of distress during a crisis include feelings of numbness, disbelief, anxiety or fear; changes in appetite, energy, and activity levels; difficulty concentrating; difficulty sleeping or nightmares and upsetting thoughts and images; physical reactions, such as headaches, body pains, stomach problems, and skin rashes; worsening of chronic health problems; anger or short-temper; increased use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs.
Healthy minds lead to healthy communities. While going through this unsettling and distressing time, we need to remind ourselves that it is natural to feel stress, anxiety, grief, and worry during a crisis. Everyone reacts to a crisis differently. Strong feelings and emotions will change over time. Taking care of your mental health during a crisis will help you think clearly and enable you to solve issues related to health, safety, and daily living.
Coping is a big part of dealing with a crisis. There is not a one-size-fits-all coping strategy. Rather, there are many ways to cope. Suggestions for coping and developing healthy minds include: take care of your body through healthy eating, exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep, avoid alcohol or other drugs for coping, and engage in activities you enjoy; spend some time connecting with family and people that you trust and who have your best interest in mind through Zoom, Skype, or FaceTime. Take breaks to unwind and remind yourself that your strong feelings of uncertainty and confusion will fade. As much as possible, do activities you usually enjoy.
Stay informed about COVID-19 from reliable sources or officials like the CDC @ http://www.cdc.gov/ or the NC Dept. of Health & Human Services @ https://www.ncdhhs.gov/.%20divisions/public-health/covid19 Be aware of inaccurate information found on social media; avoid too much exposure to news that repeat images and stories on the 24/7 news cycle. And, seek help when needed from a clergy member, professional counselor, medical doctor, or other health care provider, or contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline Toll-Free: 1-800-662-HELP; National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Toll-Free 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Maintain a sense of hope and positive thinking by writing down the things and the people you are grateful for or that are going well.
Communities are seen caring for and respecting each other. Within each of us is a sense of hope. Individually, we can be a beacon of light that illuminates humanity’s better nature to serve and to effect positive and transformative good in the lives of others, I leave you with a new phrase that I recently learned from one of our lady Trojan basketball players from New Zealand, “Kia Kaha” which means ‘be strong, forever strong.’